Bond bill may help day care raise funds it needs to grow

$100,000 would enable church to expand facility

$50,000 grant sought from state

January 28, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Grace Episcopal Church has been struggling for more than five years to gather $1.5 million needed to construct a 9,000- square-foot day care center near its parish hall on Montgomery Road in Elkridge.

The center has outgrown its space in the parish hall and lacks the $100,000 it needs to complete its new home.

"The building is just used day and night," said Cathy Hudson, co-chairwoman of the building committee. "We needed to have more space to do other things."

Now, the church has hope that with political help they can get the center built as planned.

Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat whose district includes parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, is drafting a bill that would provide $50,000 in state bond money that could be matched with $50,000 from local private sources or Howard County to provide the financing needed to complete the center in time for classes to begin in September.

The church held a groundbreaking for the center yesterday that was attended by Malone and Howard County Executive James N. Robey as well as other members of the county's legislative delegation.

The church hopes to use space freed by construction of the center to provide programs for Elkridge senior citizens.

"Elkridge is one of the fastest-growing areas in Howard County," Malone said. "Nowadays mom and dad are both working; they need a quality place for kids to go."

But the money is not a sure thing.

Malone said he has won backing for his bill from state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Howard County Democrat. But whether he can win support from a majority of the Howard legislative delegation is unclear.

"Some people think that's a good way to spend government dollars. I don't," said Del. Shane E. Pendergrass a Howard County Democrat. "It's very difficult to ensure that religion - and particularly sectarian religion - is kept out of the [school] day and the facility."

Malone has pledged to answer such concerns with a draft bill that will make clear the separation of church and state. He said similar programs have been funded with state money in the past.

Members of the Howard County legislative delegation will hear public comment on the bond bill and other issues at a public meeting at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in the George Howard Building.

Raising $50,000 in matching funds is also in question.

Private funds

The county would help the church identify private matching funds, said Herman Charity, Robey's legislative lobbyist. Grace Episcopal has not officially sought matching funding from the county for the project, he noted, nor has any direct county aid been promised in this tight budget year.

The county also will assist the church in seeking funding through Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposed faith-based initiative, which would allow religious organizations to compete for state money for programs such as child care, low-income housing and after-school help, Charity said.

The church also is considering seeking help from private foundations in Howard County.

`Secular enough'

"We felt that the service we provide there is probably secular enough" to be awarded funding through nonprofit foundations, said Laura Trent, a member of the vestry, or church board.

The Rev. Taylor M. Smith, the church rector, agreed. "We're not providing specifically Christian child care," he said. "We do have some children of other faiths."

But the church has not been successful in past efforts to solicit money from local foundations.

If the church fails in its efforts to raise the $100,000, it plans to complete a scaled-back version of the center, Smith said.

Softer economy

Two years ago, the county created a Child Care Task Force to assess the booming need for day care, but the economy has softened since then, and day care space has become easier to find.

Elkridge has more than 80 licensed, smaller "family providers" - each tending to fewer than eight children in private houses, said Debbie Yare, program manager of the Howard County Child Care Resource Center. But the area is home to three larger child-care centers, and soon it will be two.

Little Folks Child Care on Huntshire Drive in Elkridge, which accepts infants and children, will close soon, Yare said. A person answering the phone at Little Folks confirmed its closing but declined to comment further.

Grace church's center is needed because Elkridge "is such a growing area," Yare said. Still, she said, spaces are available. "Some areas are saturated, others aren't," she said.

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